Teaching People to Reach for More

As a leader, I know I’ve made a big mistake, more than once. By taking things away when people couldn’t get everything done, I’ve taught them to throw their hands up and throw in the towel. How do I teach people to stick with it and climb up that big hill, overcoming more challenges than they think they can, without having them get lost, and without jeopardizing the business’ progress? Appreciate the help!

Thoughts of the Day:   Manage your expectations into the realm of reality. Be willing to let people fail. Listen carefully to what’s going on. Build an expandable toolkit. Put the customer front and center.

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Get Your Succession Plan in Order Now

We have always tried to recruit good people, promoting from within if possible. We think we have people in place who could play a significant role in the company’s next generation. We need to understand their capabilities and commitments on a whole different level. And we need to be clear about our expectations of them. Is there a match? If we mess up, this company’s future could be in doomed, or we could be back in the driver’s seat exactly when we’re ready to retire.

Thoughts of the Day: Planning out the next generation can be a challenge. “Now” is almost always the right answer when considering if it’s time to get moving on figuring out the future. Looking for talent inside the company is smart. Knowing when talent has to come in from outside is crucial. Figuring out any gaps well ahead of time gives you options.

Looking to the future can be intimidating. Thinking who might run the company when you’re no longer around shows that you’re mortal and replaceable. Who wants to admit to either of those? Most owners underestimate the time and effort needed to form a succession solution. Or, they get busy running the company and don’t make time to work through the detail. Or, they follow the model they have followed — one person in charge — without realizing that a management team might do a better job.

Lack of clarity about succession leaves employees farther down the line in the dark as to what might unfold if something were to happen to the current owner(s). If something unexpected happens, you want people who are prepared to step up. You want everyone in the organization to actively support those who do step forward. It’s easier to follow a plan already in place that everyone agreed to when there was the benefit of time to work through details.

It is preferable to be prepared with a solution than to be caught short. That means taking time to brainstorm and plan, even if those plans eventually get scrapped in favor of new plans. Having options is always better than being faced with a critical decision and no preparation.

Start by assessing the talent pool inside the company. Ask people what they’re good at, what they want to learn about and where they see themselves in the future. Expose employees to leadership and opportunities beyond their current roles.

Make it part of everyone’s job to participate in some form of outside education every year. Try job sharing with a peer company to expose your employees to another way of doing things and to bring in people who might look differently at how business gets done. Find out who wants to step up and who is more comfortable taking a backseat role.

Make sure to profile the jobs at the top. What are the jobs today? What skills and talents will be required five to 10 years from now as the company continues to grow and the marketplace changes?

It’s worth noting that any organization knows what it knows — and that’s not everything. There are ideas, solutions, suggestions and options that others have thought about that could be useful to consider. Some of those outside ideas might get rejected and some might be a fit. Ignoring the possibilities that others can bring to the table is just plain dumb.

Constantly challenge your team to get smarter, faster and better at what they do by exposing them to things outside the company. Ask employees to take courses, go on sabbatical, spend time working for another company. Try anything that helps to expand their horizons with information that they could bring back to help your company.

If there are gaps in what the company needs to know — at present or in the future — you have a couple options. Hire the talent. Hire teachers to train your employees. Get people to practice through simulations — for example take time off and let your employees deal with what comes up.

Right now, unless you’re in crisis, your company has time to work through its succession planning needs. Working on successions planning is job number one for every business owner. Ensure that the company is prepared for change and smooth transitions, ready to step into its future when the old guard steps down.

Looking for a good book? Try “Leaders at All Levels: Deepening Your Talent Pool to Solve the Succession Crisis” by Ram Charan.


Include Every Team Member in Setting Goals

Common company wide goals – we don’t have them. We’re all self-interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes it’s hard to understand each other’s pictures. Not sure if we’re lacking the patience or the perspective we need. When we do make goals, they seem loose, they don’t get transferred to the entire team, and we don’t take them seriously. There are no consequences to not meeting our goals.

Thoughts of the Day: Even if you don’t have written goals, you do have goals, you just don’t know it yet. As owners it’s important that you take hold and decide what you stand for. There are always consequences for your actions or inactions. Remember that there is strength in numbers, learn to help each other get ahead.

Every day, people get up, go to work, get things done, and then go home. Intentionally planned out, or simply drifting along, most people manage each day to get moving and accomplish some things. Conscious and unconscious activities are the outgrowth of conscious or unconscious goals – to get moving, to earn some money, to be in contact with other people, to get something done.

Thinking through long and short term goals, actions and consequences allows one to act pre-emptively to achieve what’s desired. Written goals, backed up by a list of action steps needed to achieve those goals, tends to increase the likelihood of the goals coming to be. Working consciously through goals and actions can also increase the chance that undesired consequences can be anticipated, and avoided or minimized.

Human behavior starts with thinking selfishly, what’s good for me. For some people it evolves to, “How can I accomplish what I need while also thinking about the needs and wants of others?” Expanding one’s horizon beyond self-interest allows for the possibility of taking in additional ideas and contributions from others.

No one person has all the answers. A group working to solve problems and learn from each other’s experiences tends to result in higher level outcomes than does a single person working alone. In the process of working out bugs, communicating about what needs to happen, and sharing individual know-how, a higher level of performance emerges based upon the group’s collective abilities.

It does take patience to listen as one member of the group, and then another, talks about how their experiences are relevant to the situation at hand. It may feel as though there isn’t enough time to wade through the clutter of multiple participants inputting what they consider to be important. In the process of trying to saving time, it’s easy to overlook the nuggets that each team member can add to a group project.

People in the organization look to the owners for leadership and guidance. Behaving without regard for your peers, ignoring the goals and motivations of other team members, shutting off discussion – are these really the things you want to be known for? Or would you rather be seen as a person who encourages the talent around you, as someone who helps people grow by fostering an environment of cooperation and collaboration while working towards the greater good?

Consider compromise to find the balance between what you want and accommodating the needs of other team members. Allow for the possibility that helping each other may lead to new insights and experiences that could never have emerged if you were working on your own.

Use the process of defining and setting specific, tangible goals to your advantage. Discussion, documentation and negotiation are all great toold to help you better understand where your teammates are coming from, and to educate them about what you consider to be important. Ask all team members to join in it will remind them that they are crucial to the growth of the company, and will make them committed to achieving the goals. Use breakdowns in communication and teamwork to your advantage, treat them as learning and strengthening opportunities. Refuse to walk away when things get tough. Hold your team members accountable for doing the same.

Looking for a good book? Good Luck, Creating the Conditions for Success in Life and in Business, by Alex Rovira and Fernando Trias de Bes.


Stay Consistent in Working Towards Success

I get nervous about the holes that keep cropping up. It seems like we all struggle with giving things the right amount of time, and patience. It feels like it could take forever before we accomplish anything.

Thoughts of the Day: Setting the success tone for the company starts at the top. Define the top priorities, what will lead to the company’s overall success. Have a way to track progress, and know what progress looks like so you can know it when you see it. Make sure everyone has time each week to work on those top priorities. Encourage people to practice at making bigger and better decisions. When planning, allow for breakdowns and recovery time, but demand that each mistake leads to getting smarter and quicker.

If the business owner, as leader of the company, believes the company can succeed, people are likely to follow the lead. Conversely, if the owner is down on the company and pessimistic, people are likely to pick up on that attitude. After all, the owner has the biggest stake in the company’s future, and is presumed to have the best overall information.

So what’s your attitude like these days? Committed, focused and driving forward to the prize? Are your concerns about the business just problems to work on solving? Having reservations about the future success of the company is normal. How those reservations are presented to those around you is what counts.

When you look at the future do you communicate to others that you see potential? Are you filling positions in the company with people who are capable of helping you to solve the company’s problems? Do you embrace change as a necessary part of the company’s evolution?

Paint a picture of what company success looks like. Work with managers and employees to identify the top factors and actions that will lead to success. Get people engaged by talking realistically about the challenges, and then brainstorm ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.

It’s your choice how the people who work for you spend their time. If you keep asking for more productivity on day to day tasks, that’s what you’ll get. If you ask people to set aside time to think, plan, review results and revise actions, they’ll usually do that. But you can’t do both at once. Sacrifice a small amount of productivity in order to develop ways to become smarter, more error free, faster, more coordinated.

Ask people to take a risk. If they get it wrong, ask them to fix it. Start small. Build confidence for both yourself and the people who work with you. The more that people around you can take on, the freer you will be to work on even bigger things.

Build in time for errors and recovery. If you haven’t seen someone do something well in the past, expect they’ll get it wrong the first or second time they try. Plan extra time and resources to allow for the learning curve to take hold.

Set up KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, to make sure that everyone knows what’s being measured. Graph performance vs. KPIs so that it’s obvious when improvements are taking hold and when more help is needed to figure out better solutions. Celebrate the wins, and use them to build everyone’s confidence that things are getting better.

Looking for a good book? The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All, by Michael Useem


Do I Really Need a Marketing Person?

Administrative help we can find, but marketing seems a little more difficult. How do we know who to look for and how to know if they’re any good at it? Do I really need someone on staff? Or should I hire people to work on projects? If I don’t manage marketing, who will? When it comes to marketing, it seems like I have more questions than answers. Help!

Thoughts of the Day: Marketing is the most diverse of all of the company’s core functions, as well as the least well understood or measured. Marketing is essential to the company’s future. Building a team to work on marketing is the way to go. Figure out what it is that you plan to measure before you hire. Grow into marketing over time.

Most business owners are very good at what they do. But unless the services they provide fall into the marketing arena or they’ve had a past job in marketing, the whole field of marketing seems pretty foreign and uncomfortable to them. And we all know that we are less likely to jump on tasks that are unfamiliar.

Combine unfamiliarity with uncertainty – as in lack of clarity around expected results – and you’ll find most business owners will go out of their way to avoid the subject. Why work on something they don’t understand when instead, they could immerse themselves in something more comfortable, such as the work the company does to keep its current customers satisfied?

The breadth of marketing can be intimidating. There’s print, telecommunications and online venues through which to approach potential customers. Advertising, direct mail, social media, networking and phone campaigns are just some of the tools to use to attract attention. Just because people pay attention doesn’t mean that they’re the right targets – that’s where research comes into play. Focus on online presence with a website that lacks good design and programming and you could do more harm than damage. And of course, today’s customers may or may not be the customers your company needs in the future.

There are so many unknowns in marketing. Of course business owners choose to avoid the subject. But avoiding the subject can lead to big problems down the road when there aren’t enough of the right kinds of leads to keep the business growing profitably. So, the solution is to learn enough to be able to engage with the subject, learn about what does and doesn’t work and build a robust marketing function.

Get some experience with marketing by joining a club or taking a course devoted to the subject. There are national associations devoted to marketing. Schools provide semester and weekend courses. Look online for seminars available from business trainers. Start by learning about the subject and picking one or two topic areas to focus on.

A strong, well-rounded marketing function will help to ensure that your company is working on both today and the future. That’s your long-term goal. In the meantime you have to start somewhere. Build your confidence by starting small and getting a couple wins under your belt.

Interview people who provide various marketing services. For each area of marketing that you want to focus on, always interview at least three candidates. Use the interview process to learn about the topic. Use common sense. Don’t get intimidated. If it appeals to you, give it a try.

It’s hard to stay committed to any activity unless it shows measurable results. Unfortunately in marketing you have to give things time to gel. And it may be hard to compare the costs of a marketing activity to actual results. In addition, marketing is a multiplier function. Typically the more activities you engage in, the more likely you are to see a result.

Build your confidence. Make a list of things to work on in marketing. Then get one or two of the items checked off. Put together a timetable and a budget for marketing activities. That will help you see marketing as a process rather than an event.

Looking for a good book? Try “Small Business Marketing, Your Ultimate Guide” by Jimmy Nichols.